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Pandemic Phase II: How to Keep Remote Teams Connected and Focused
About one year ago, organizations learned they could no longer work from a single physical location due to logistical or health restrictions caused by COVID-19. So, like your company, they started using technology to keep remote teams connected.
According to a FlexJobs survey, 95% of respondents reported they feel more productive while working from home. Many have discovered that remote work provides increased job satisfaction, flexibility, and enhanced productivity. However, it also brings challenges that can jeopardize company objectives, team performance, and employee relationships.
As we approach the second phase of the pandemic, let’s discuss why we should continue to adopt remote working. Let’s also talk about the challenges of managing a remote team and the solutions to those challenges.
Reasons to Continue to Embrace Remote Working
Even as the impact of the COVID-19 crisis appears to be waning, there are three clear reasons to embrace remote working in Phase II of the pandemic:
Increased Health and Safety
Even as vaccination roll-outs continue, remote working allows your employees to maintain social distance, keeping everyone safer. According to MMC, 90% of employees still worry about how the virus can affect them and their families financially and, of course, from a health perspective.
Higher Productivity and Efficiency
According to Owllabs, 91% of remote workers reported they’d experienced a better work-life balance which increased their focus and productivity levels.
Reduced Costs on Resources and Infrastructure
Virtual work saves resources because the rental and utility costs are close to non-existent. You can attract freelancers from a global talent pool without hiring locally and paying higher rates for the same skill sets.
On average, remote workers save $11,000 annually to a company with more than 500 employees.
Keeping Remote Work Teams Connected: The Challenges
At face value, remote work sounds great. But how do you keep your remote teams engaged, connected, and focused while working from different time zones and physical locations? Here are a few challenges — and solutions — that will help you keep your remote teams connected and productive.
Challenge No. 1: Keeping the Team Connected
A team that isn’t connected faces a lack of socialization, conversation, and discussion. That long-term lack of employee interaction leads to a decline in team spirit and a disruption of productivity and effectiveness.
Promoting informal socializing and interactions addresses the challenge of keeping the team connected. Even as you consider moving employees back to the office, organize regular team meetings through platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet to keep your team updated and on the same page. Create an informal social media group or channel for general conversations. For instance, you may create a Whatsapp group where team members can share their daily activities or hobbies to get to know each other on a deeper level.
Encourage your team to discuss their hobbies and engage in informal conversations. Organize quiz nights or happy hour sessions to get relaxed and interact through engaging activities. After all, even as lockdowns are relaxed, it’s important not to lose the balance between formal and non-work-related meetings.
Challenge No. 2: Poor Communication
Remote work features communication through online platforms. As we learned during Phase I of the pandemic, poor communication leads to employee dissatisfaction, poor project delivery, and internal conflicts. The leading causes of poor communication among global remote teams are cultural and time zone differences.
Remote work lacks the aspects achievable with in-person work communication settings, so it’s essential to:
- Set virtual communication guidelines: To enhance communication efficiency, establish virtual communication guidelines for formal meetings. Follow a specific meeting agenda, and delegate a meeting host who organizes the meeting and keeps the flow uninterrupted.
- Create specific working hours: Specify a block of time when everyone should be online despite their geographical locations. These group working hours allow employees to collaborate, plan and execute work no matter their time zone differences.
- Set a time limit for response: Determine the time it will take for a remote employee to respond to an email, telephone call, or text message. It ensures that no request remains unattended for long, making processes go smoothly — project management platforms such as Asana or Trello support effective communication on projects involving different departments.
- Desist from colloquialism: If remote team members live in distant geographical locations that feature different cultural qualities, avoid slang references and sensitive topics in official channels.
- Instant messaging: Tools like Slack or Google Hangouts will keep communication uninterrupted and in a specific flow.
- File-sharing: Enable the storing of team files on the cloud, which helps your employees collaborate better.
Challenge #3: Reduced Focus and Productivity
Also, as learned over the past year, distractions characterize remote working, which reduces a team’s focus and productivity. After all, even after almost 12 months, employees working from home may still feel they are not really at work due to their familiar — and familial — surroundings at home.
- Set clear targets: Always start a new work week with specific targets and milestones. Discuss the established goals for the week with team members and ensure everyone understands their role. With precise goal setting, your team will have a higher chance of avoiding distractions and achieving their goals.
- Conduct frequent reviews: Maintain frequent communication with your team and keep checking in on their progress. Find out which obstacles hinder your team’s performance. Such regular interaction will motivate your remote workers to engage with their tasks.
- Provide productivity tools and technology: Productivity tools will help your virtual team focus on work and avoid distractions. Such tools include noise reduction software, website blockers, timers, and white noise generators.
- Encourage dedicated workspace: Having a dedicated office increases productivity while decreasing the number of distractions. Suggest employees remove unnecessary items from the office space that might cause them to drift away from what should be their primary focus.
Challenge #4: Lack of Accountability
For most of 2020 and early in 2021, a lack of accountability (and self-discipline) has been a significant hindrance to managing a virtual team well. After all, despite what we’ve learned, when a team member works remotely, it can be difficult to tell if they are working or engaged in other interests or meeting other pandemic-related responsibilities like distance learning.
Encourage the Pomodoro technique to help employees focus on a single task for 25 minutes and take short breaks to handle other commitments afterward. For those still prone to digital distraction, monitoring and time tracking tools can bridge the accountability gaps for remote employees. A great way to decrease the number of distractions? Install an application blocker on company-provided assets that disable accessing specific apps or websites that distract from productive work.
Bonus tip: Introduce accountability partners that work together on the same tasks, and report to each other about the progress. Healthy competition can do wonders for productivity and self-discipline.
Communication Still Makes or Breaks a Remote Working Environment
Remote work enhances employees’ satisfaction, achieves higher productivity, reduces costs, and helps employers access the best talent. But remote work also comes with challenges. Knowing how to address them will enhance your ability to keep remote teams connected and improve your organization’s performance.
As we enter Phase II of the pandemic and start to move toward recovery, a focus on improving communication channels throughout the company is a must.